The U.S. Census is conducted every 10 years as authorized in the Constitution, and it is intended to count every person living in the United States, whether or not they are residents. From funding for public housing and Medicare to education and free- or reduced-cost meals for students and senior citizens, American lawmakers rely on the census results to determine how tax dollars are spent, and where.
This year the Allentown Housing Authority is working with the City of Allentown and a consortium of public and nonprofit agencies to encourage full participation from all city residents. The census questionnaires sent to every household must be completed and returned by Sept. 30 to be counted by the federal government.
"The Census has an incredible reach into the lives of every resident," said Chris Borick, a Political Science professor and director of the Muhlenberg College Institute of Public Opinion. "It determines the amount of representation we have in Washington and Harrisburg, how decisions are made on issues such as public housing. Both of these have real-life implications for all of us. This is a great opportunity to have a positive effect on things that affect your life."
From June 29 to July 24, AHA worked with teams from the Lehigh Valley Health Network and Allentown School District's Building 21 students to make phone calls to all resident households in the authority system to encourage participation. About 300 reported they had completed the census, 50 said they had the information needed to complete it and 40 asked for more information, said AHA Social Services Director Melissa Aclo.
"We were supposed to host a Census Hub with the City of Allentown at Cumberland Gardens, but because of COVID-19, the city opted out for safety reasons," she said.
Still, said Allentown Senior Planner Jesse Sadiua, the city continues to work with the housing authority and other organizations to increase return rates for the census forms.
"We are not happy now," he said. "We are at about 60, 61 percent and our goal is 100 percent participation. We would like to get to 90, 91 percent before the deadline."
Sadiua, Aclo and others say there might be fear among some city residents, particularly immigrants, that their census information could be used against them. That is NOT true, they say. Census information is not shared with federal immigration offices or individuals.
"We need to hear from everyone," Sadiua said. "Your answers to the census are completely confidential. They are not, in any way, shared with your landlord, the government, your banks or anything like that."